12:54 PM

Learn Tips from Psychologist Aaron Pomerantz on Transforming Children’s Tantrums and Meltdowns

Dr. Aaron PomerantzWho has experienced a child's meltdown, either your child's or someone else’s little ones? Have bystanders ever thought there was a threat or the behavior your child exhibited was dangerous? Has law enforcement ever become involved in the situation?

Meet an authority on managing such situations: Dr. Aaron Pomerantz, assistant professor of Psychology at the University of St. Thomas-Houston, who recently taught an online course offered by Applied Behavioral Happiness, a group of mental health practitioners and educators who work with parents to help them overcome and grow through challenges with their children. 

"I was featured in their 12-week intensive and resource library, with ‘Transforming Tantrums and Meltdowns,’ a course designed to help parents, including those whose children have behavioral or developmental disorders or delays, create long-term plans for dealing with the specific issues relating to emotional dysregulation," Pomerantz said. View the course link here.

Pomerantz researches the everyday ways that norms, beliefs, and values lead us to support, tolerate, and even applaud behaviors and attitudes that harm others and ourselves. 

Pomerantz offers a few important takeaways from his talk and, more broadly:

  •  "Tantrums and Meltdowns are not something you can punish or force your way out of or through it. They are moments of dysregulation, and adults have them as much as kids do. For our kids, trying to punish them for having a tantrum or meltdown is working against their brain function. Tantrums tend to have a more specific trigger, while meltdowns result from overwhelm, but each is not going to be something you can force another person to stop having. Instead, it is an opportunity to teach kids how to regulate themselves." 
  • "However, there are a lot of stigmas out there about parenting, much of it cultural that makes parents afraid that they will be seen as ‘permissive’ or ‘weak’ if they do not try to punish their children out of having tantrums or meltdowns. There is also a belief that if you do not punish your kids this way, you somehow harm or make them similarly weak." 
  • "It is also important to understand that you and those around you are not immune to cognitive biases. In the course, I talk about the ‘illusion of transparency,’ the idea that our intentions are clear to those around us. The fact is that they are not. For parents and caretakers of Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities (IDD) individuals, this is especially important, as a meltdown or tantrum can appear scary to others. While you might recognize it as a tantrum or meltdown, and know that your child does not intend any harm that might not be how it comes off to others." 

"Even for those of us who don't take care of IDD individuals, or even for those of us who do not take care of kids period, it is important to keep in mind that we have our own cognitive biases and presuppositions that we bring to ambiguous situations," Pomerantz said. "We cannot just assume that everyone sees the world the way we see the world. What is harmless venting may be interpreted as a threat, and what is a joke might come off as threatening. What we think is just ‘blowing off steam’ may be perceived as dangerous behavior. This perception is doubly important when interacting with law enforcement.”

He notes, "The legal arena has been examining this phenomenon, specifically with regard to attitudes within policing, police interrogation, and criminal justice reform."

Pomerantz received his bachelor's degree in Psychology and Theatre at Hillsdale College in 2015 and a Master's in Experimental Psychology from the University of Oklahoma in 2017. He earned a doctorate in Psychology from the University of Oklahoma in 2021. 

Pomerantz’s dissertation was on the topic of police interrogation and coerced false confessions, which he says "is something that is becoming more and more prominent as organizations like The Innocence Project succeed in getting more and more exonerations.

“My subsequent research has examined broader attitudes towards policing and police brutality, jury decision-making, and why people oppose criminal justice reform efforts in favor of ‘tough on crime’ policies that lead to demonstrably harmful outcomes for everyone." 

Pomerantz recently taught a Psychology and Law course at UST and plans to offer the class again in fall 2023.